1. Daphne du Maurier. Of course I must start off with the queen herself, the original. Daphne du Maurier is the author of Rebecca, a 20th-century classic and the possessor of one of the more famous opening lines in literary history. Rebecca is a spooky, gothic romance, but mostly it’s just darn addicting – the story will grab you as if you’re a 10-year-old reading Redwall or an Alistair MacLean novel for the first time, and rush you along its irresistible current. If you like Jane Eyre or its lesser-known cousin, Villette, this will be exactly up your alley.
The narrator is never given a name, but she’s a young bride to Maxim de Winter, the charismatic but slightly mysterious owner of a Cornish estate. He’s a forceful personality ala Rochester, proposing by saying “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.” When the narrator moves in, however, she finds a home haunted by the memory of his first wife, Rebecca, who was killed in a sailing accident. Du Maurier herself always said she didn’t mean this book to be a romance, but I’ve always read and loved it as such: it’s about two people who overcome darkness to stay together. It’s heady and giddy and gripping and rather lovely. It’s never been out of print and is the standard-bearer for Gothic romance.
The opening lines resonate. “Last night I dreamt I went to at Manderley again…”
2. Mary Stewart. I went through a period in high school where I was obsessed with Stewart books – they’re such a deft, gripping blend of complex characters, suspense, and romance. She was one of the most widely read fiction writers of the 20th century, and passed away recently in May of 2014. A British novelist, she wrote both romantic suspense and historical novels and was respected for both. By far and away my favorite of her books, and a good introduction, is Nine Coaches Waiting, which yes, I admit, bears some resemblance to Jane Eyre as well (can I help it that all these Gothic romance writers are tripping on the same thing?).